NOV 07, 2017 11:44 AM PST

This Giant Red Star Could Teach Us More About Our Sun's Future

WRITTEN BY: Anthony Bouchard

Everyone knows of the Sun as the bright power plant at the center of our solar system; its heat warms the surfaces of the innermost planets, and its gravitational forces act as the stellar glue that keeps every world in its respective orbit.

While we’ve uncovered a lot about our Sun by inspecting it up close, it’s still proves challenging to prognosticate our Sun’s future. To help with that, astronomers often study older stars from alien systems to procure clues regarding how stars develop over time.

W Hydrae as seen from the ALMA. The circle represents the size of Earth's orbit around the Sun, emphasizing just how large this star actually is.

Image Credit: ALMA (ESO/NAOJ/NRAO)/W. Vlemmings

One such star that could teach us a lot about our Sun’s fate is W Hydrae, an old red giant located almost 320 light years away from Earth. Fortunately, astronomers recently snagged some images of the star’s surface with the Atacama Large Millimeter/Submillimeter Array (ALMA), generating some of the most comprehensive datasets of any star of this caliber to date.

In the journal Nature Astronomy, the researchers detail their complete findings, and what they found taking place within W Hydrae’s chaotic chromosphere piqued their curiosity.

“For us, it's important to study not just what red giants look like, but how they change and how they seed the galaxy with the elements that are the ingredients of life,” elaborated study lead author Wouter Vlemmings from the Chalmers University of Technology.

“Using the antennas of ALMA in their highest-resolution configuration, we can now make the most detailed observations ever of these cool and exciting stars.”

Related: ALMA observes the Sun in a new light

While astronomers have analyzed the surfaces of red supergiant stars previously, W Hydrae captivates more interest because its mass is akin to the Sun’s despite it's larger size; this means that it might provide critical insight into how the Sun will behave once it changes into a red giant at the end of its life cycle.

ALMA's data revealed something that astronomers weren’t expecting to see: a bright spot residing in the star’s chromosphere. It’s indicative of a process that scientists don't account for in current asymptotic giant branch star models, which means the discovery could revolutionize the way we think about these stars forever.

“Our measurements of the bright spot suggest there are powerful shock waves in the star's atmosphere that reach higher temperatures than are predicted by current theoretical models for AGB stars,” said Theo Khouri, a co-author of the study.

Related: ALMA captures images of a stunning protostar collision

Whether shockwaves (or something else) caused the bright spot remains to be seen, but astronomers aren’t relying on a single observation to re-write science textbooks. Follow-up investigations are in planning as of this writing to achieve a better understanding of what’s going on in W Hydrae’s chromosphere.

With a little bit of luck, we might see the same reaction in subsequent observations; perhaps even in other red giants with masses tantamount to the Sun. It should be exciting to see how this research will impact existing theories about our Sun's evolution over millions or billions of years.

Source: Chalmers University of Technology

About the Author
  • Fascinated by scientific discoveries and media, Anthony found his way here at LabRoots, where he would be able to dabble in the two. Anthony is a technology junkie that has vast experience in computer systems and automobile mechanics, as opposite as those sound.
You May Also Like
SEP 08, 2020
Space & Astronomy
Reusable Chinese Space Craft Lands Returns Earth
SEP 08, 2020
Reusable Chinese Space Craft Lands Returns Earth
The Chinese government has announced the safe return of a reusable spacecraft, called Chongfu Shiyong Shiyan Hangtian Qi ...
NOV 14, 2020
Space & Astronomy
Evidence of Supernovae Found in Ancient Tree Rings
NOV 14, 2020
Evidence of Supernovae Found in Ancient Tree Rings
Researchers from the University of Colorado Boulder have found that the rings in Earth's ancient trees may hold evid ...
DEC 15, 2020
Space & Astronomy
Spiders Build Webs in Space
DEC 15, 2020
Spiders Build Webs in Space
As humans have ventured into space, they have carried some terrestrial life with them, including spiders. Once dreamed u ...
DEC 29, 2020
Space & Astronomy
Why is the Sun's Outer Atmosphere Hotter than its Surface?
DEC 29, 2020
Why is the Sun's Outer Atmosphere Hotter than its Surface?
The fact that the Sun's distant atmosphere is significantly hotter than its surface has been a topic of confusion in ...
JAN 08, 2021
Space & Astronomy
New Findings Suggest Dark Matter Doesn't Exist
JAN 08, 2021
New Findings Suggest Dark Matter Doesn't Exist
The existence of dark matter has been considered a 'given' for decades as a way to understand some of the less e ...
JAN 24, 2021
Chemistry & Physics
ALMA observations give insight into the formation of stars
JAN 24, 2021
ALMA observations give insight into the formation of stars
New research published in the journal Astronomy & Astrophysics gives new insight into the mystery behind how stars f ...
Loading Comments...